Twin Toddlerhood – The 18 Month Chronicles


I thought that life with two toddlers (and a preschooler) was, quite possibly, going to be a nightmare.

There. I said it.

I love my girls – don’t misunderstand me there. I was just scared out of my mind to have them actually move. They were so lovely and contained in their bouncy seats, their swings. I could always see their hands.

IMG_6456Fear had me imagining how one would be splashing in the sink, and the other would be heading for the basement stairs. Or one would be noshing in the flour tub, and the other would be climbing into the dryer. Or maybe they’d both make a pact to destroy the only houseplant I’ve kept alive for over a decade.

Perhaps that’s a fear of every mother with multiple children. A mama can only be in one place at one time. But children don’t abide by those rules. Toddlers run all over like the butter you were only supposed to soften in the microwave. Preschoolers slather themselves, and the surrounding walls, in vaseline because they have an owie. On their toe.

Meanwhile, in the middle of me trying to figure out how to quit being afraid of calling my girls toddlers, Gabby got off her knees and balanced on her heels, arms held wide. She was slow and methodical, and immensely pleased with herself. Lucy joined her after a month, and immediately, life changed. Thankfully, it changed in a very good way.

Here at 18 months and fully mobile, the girls are happier. More self-directed. (My three and half year old included.) They are less apt to scream for things they can’t reach, whine for something across the room, or cry because they need a change of scenery.

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No way, sister. No way.

Along with the physical steps, they’ve started making verbal strides as well. Words are still sparse, but every day I hear them say something new. I also now catch them singing, talking on the phone (any object with buttons), and jabbering to their stuffed animals. They’ve also mastered the art of yes and no. Specifically no.

But by far the best thing I’ve noticed this month is their level of affection toward one another. I’m friends with a lovely group of twin mamas on Facebook and Instagram, and I’d always feel a twinge of jealousy when I saw their twins hugging one another, kissing each other, or sleeping side by side.

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                Love.

Then a couple of weeks ago, I noticed something new. Lucy rested her head on Gabby’s shoulder in the shopping cart. It was the first time I’d seen them intentionally take comfort from one another.

Since then, I’ve seen all three of my girls venture into the territory of sisterly affection. I caught Ellis holding Lucy in our old blue rocking chair, singing you are my sunshine, my only sunshine. Gabby has started giving kisses on demand. Lucy is always game to snuggle with any of her sisters that are sitting down.

It’s nothing short of amazing to me. All of it. The walking. The attempts at talking. The affection.

In all my fearful wonderings about how it was going to work managing two toddlers and a preschooler, I made a big mistake. I didn’t temper my fear with any IMG_7305 (1024x749)daydreams of how awesome it was going to be to see my girls grow.  (Or in today’s case, how interesting it would be to type with a baby sitting on the desk in front of me, randomly poking at the keys.)

That sounds so rote. I know. Don’t worry about the scary stuff!! Think about the good stuff!! Smiley face!! Hearts!!

But please. Promise me something. Promise me you’ll try envisioning your children growing up. Not because I said so. Not because you need another piece of advice to pin, or something  to write on your chalkboard, or another link to store in your phone. Try it because if you’re anything like me, it’s simply too easy to lose sight of the big picture.

We are raising our children to be people.

Imagine your daughter sitting at the piano. Your son designing his first science project. Your teenagers sitting down at the table for pizza night. Think about the first time your child tells you they’re in love.

Fear doesn’t deserve as much space as we give it in this life- motherhood or otherwise. But growth?

Growth deserves all the energy we can give it.

#Dofightgo – Guest Posting over at TwinTalkBlog today

Have I raved about Twin Talk Blog lately? Seriously. I would have LOVED to have this as a resource when I was pregnant. (They started up just a month or two after my twins were born.) Luckily, Meredith, founder extraordinaire, keeps posting a variety of topics that relate to all sorts of stages with carrying, birthing, and raising twins. It’s a fantastic site, and if you are a twin parent, I highly recommend you start following it.

Today I’m guest posting a few thoughts at Twin Talk, and I’d love for you to check them out. Here’s the beginning to get you started.

3- IMG_6113 (800x533)DO, FIGHT, GO: WHAT I’VE LEARNED PARENTING 3 UNDER 3

A week ago I started writing a post called “What happens when you treat staying at home with your kids like a job.” Or something like that. The title was a mess. The concept was blasé. The post sounded like every other stay at home parent who’s ever tried to find meaning in the endless rounds of cheerios and diapers and play dough.I never finished it.I have a hard time finishing anything right now. My twins are at a very mobile thirteen months, and my preschooler (who’s not going to preschool yet) has ramped up her curiosity to a new level – namely, the third shelf of the pantry and the top of the refrigerator.

Which brings me back to the post I was trying to write. What my former job taught me about managing my days at home was helpful; it just wasn’t that interesting.

But have I stopped to think about what I’ve learned from staying at home with my preschooler and twins? It’s been almost a year and a half of this complete life change. There has to be something.

So after we put everyone to bed, I promised myself thought space. Yes. I had to make a date with my mind to think. It’s getting real, folks.

Here’s what I came up with. Keep Reading….

Turning the Tide – The Twins are One!

The most important things are somehow the hardest ones to get down on paper.

My babies turned one year old. You guys. One.

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My darlings (Gabby left, Lucy right), day one.

Bottles. Pumping. Newborn diapers. Midnight feedings. Swings. Play mats. Burp rags. Bouncy seats. These things marked our reality for a certain set of months.

The girls’ infancy was glory unfolding. Perfect pink hands curling and uncurling like sea anemones. Slow blinks, dark eyes working to focus on our faces. The sweetest smells of milk and baby wash. The ease of holding, yet somehow feeling held ourselves. Two babies. We couldn’t stop repeating it.

But their infancy was a work like none other. There were days that felt like the sun was stubbornly stuck at 3:43 pm. There were some months I remember only in fog and through pictures, because I spent them stumbling out of bed in two hour increments every night.

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My specialty: folding tiny clothes

Everyone tells you “it’s a stage”, and “it’ll pass”, and “you’ll never get these days back.” This is about as helpful as starting a road trip and seeing your destination on a highway sign: New Orleans 1800 miles. You still have to drive every single one of those miles, yellow lines flashing in your wake.

You have to break it down.

In one month, the newborn clothes will start getting tight. In two, a schedule will start guiding your days. Smiles will play on the edge of his lips. In three, she will start holding her head up, no longer an infant. At four, the clothes become tight again, and the drawers need to be cleaned out. In five, sleep may become elusive as they grow. At six, a glimmer of change, a flurry of arm and leg movements.

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Gabby’s favorite toy: Daddy

Seven, solid foods. Sitting up. More drawer cleaning, more clothes. At eight, there may be teeth starting to arrive. In nine months you’ll put away a few bits of baby paraphernalia – the bouncy seat, which they wiggle out of, the swings, which are boring. You become their favorite toy. In ten you’ll start debating whether or not to grab baby and car seat, or just baby, because the combination of weight is enough to break your arm. Eleven – movement. So much movement.

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Mama! Look! Fingers!

And suddenly at twelve months, she is big. You put her down at the end of the day and wonder just how it was you made it from here to there in a manner of months. The baby has become a person. A person with (very) vocal needs, great belly laughs, and keen interest in the surrounding world.

It is as though time is based on desire. The more you want, the faster the minutes pass. The harder the hours, the more everything slows down to the second. Tick. Tick. Which means that maybe, just maybe, though we can’t control time, we can control our perception of it.

Perhaps then the key is simply a matter of want.

It’s okay not to want to change diapers and launder blowout-stained clothing. It’s also okay to wish his head would rest forever on your shoulder. It is this combination that moves the days forward – motivation and movement, reverence and rest.

***

IMG_4732 (800x533)We didn’t throw a giant birthday party with themed gifts and pinterest-style decorations. To be honest, I’m not good at that kind of thing, nor do I have the time to care. So my mom did the work of invites, and I blew up a few balloons, hung them on a Happy Birthday sign, and combed everyone’s hair. My family gathered in the yard at my parent’s farm, ate amazing home-cooked food and adorable cakes kindly made by my sister in law, opened presents, and played with the kids in the sprinkler.

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Lucia -1

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Gabrielle -1

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Ellis -3

It was summer and it was lovely. Really, really lovely, according to all three of my girls. And that, my friends, was all I wanted.

To raise a person

IMG_0326 (800x533)In the unmapped wilderness of raising children, it’s easy to grow short-sighted. I’m guessing it’s the “can’t see the forest for the trees” mentality. Basic needs come first. Snacks, playtime, naps. These become the rhythmic wheel rolling through our days.

Sometimes I forget, in the warm darkness of the twins’ nursery, or the quiet moments before I tuck my toddler into bed, that I’m raising people.

That my children are not going to be babies forever.

That they will continue to tack words into their vocabulary, and memorize skills with their tender hands and feet.

That they will, inevitably, need more lessons than I can teach and will go out into the world, eager to learn more.

***

I’m part of a Facebook group of twin mamas. This group posts their everyday questions, frustrations, and joys of raising twins so that by sharing our own experiences, we can create a collective of knowledge.

A week back, one of the mothers posted a story and prayer request. Her six-year-old son was involved in his first summer activity camp experience this week. Being the awesome mother that she is, she signed him in, pretended to leave, and then came back to observe how he did.

The story was hard. Her little boy bravely walked toward the group of kids already playing, and stood around the edges of the activity. After a while, he walked back over to the front gate and rested his chin on the top bar, waiting for the other three kids he knew to show up. Meanwhile, no one came up to him. No one invited him to play. After twenty minutes of knowing her son was unhappy, the mother quietly approached one of the group coordinators and asked him to introduce her son to some of the other kids his age. At that point her son saw her, so she knew she had to leave.

The mom ended her story with a brief reminder and plea. She told us that twins are special because they always have a built-in playmate – which means they have an extra measure of security in social situations. It also means we as parents should really encourage our twins to be inclusive, and to seek out kids on the outskirts and invite them in.

This all seems so far off. My main concerns of the day are whether or not my twins are ever going to learn how to drink from a sippy cup.

I forget the sippy cup is going to turn into a plastic cup, and eventually, a glass. I forget that the basic skill they need to learn now is going to inform their ability to move to the next.

***

As a parent, baby and toddlerhood are strange stages to navigate. My children don’t yet have the developmental capabilities to remember my lessons. This is frustrating. More than frustrating. Maddening.

But it doesn’t mean I get to stop gently picking the cup back up off the floor, or repeating “wash your hands” after every bathroom session.

Sometimes I look into my daughter’s stubbornness, and see God looking back at me, wanting me to see the same lesson I’m trying to teach her. Love is patient. Love is kind. It is not proud. It is not rude. It is not self-seeking. It keeps no record of wrong.

It seems we are all sculptures in various stages of molding.

One day soon, something will click.  The cup will stay on the tray. The faucet will turn without anyone’s prompting. They will be ready for the next challenge, which after a few years, will move past physical skills and into social and emotional territory.

They will be faced with the playground. The classroom. The group setting. And I will be the parent behind the corner, observing my children not as children, but as the people they’ve become.

Does this mean drinking from a cup turns into eating from a plate? Does eating from a plate make one notice food, and does noticing food turn into helping in the kitchen, learning to cook, making meals, opening the door, feeding the family, serving the hungry, or understanding the complexity of the word nourishment?

I don’t know. But I’m willing to hope.

Multiple Birth Awareness Month: My Confession

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Hear that? Mama thought we were scary. (G, L)

I used to be afraid of having twins.

It started at nine weeks when the ultrasound technician revealed the amazing truth that I was harboring two heartbeats. I was afraid of not being able to carry them to term. I was afraid of birthing them. I was afraid of how I was going to divide my time between them and my two-year old daughter. I was afraid I’d always be letting someone down.

I was afraid having twins meant I wasn’t going to be a good mother.

Two days after we came home from a thankfully uncomplicated birth, I got my first taste of the chaos I feared. It was breakfast time – my toddler in her booster seat, the babies in their rockers on the floor. My spoon was in my first bite of oatmeal when it happened.

All three girls started crying at once.

Ellis was done eating and wanted out of her chair. Gabrielle had her fist in her mouth and wanted to eat. Lucia was working on some business in the lower realms, her face turned red and squinchy. All of them were screaming.

I didn’t know where to start, still unfamiliar with the triage that multiples require.

That morning I did it all wrong, attempting to breastfeed a newborn, change a diaper with my free hand, and reason with my toddler that I’d be done in a second. It was a massive fail. My husband came in to find us all tear-blotched and upset.

People often ask if it’s much harder caring for twins. My answer? It’s not harder. (Changing a diaper isn’t intrinsically hard.) It just takes longer. 

Diapers. Baths. Clothes. Car seat buckling. Meal time. Crying. Everything takes twice as long.

Add this to the fact that babies in and of themselves are time-consuming creatures. They require slow and careful movements. They long to be held. To stare into our eyes. To form connections and bonds, brain synapses firing like lightning bugs on warm July nights.

april 042 (533x800)Funny thing is, toddlers need the same thing. So do spouses. Just all in a different way. And once I realized this, somehow, my fear of adding two tiny people to our family got a little smaller.

No matter how many of us were in the house, ultimately, we all just needed to be loved. And love was not a limited quantity item that went out of stock in my pantry. Love was the one thing I could always find, even when everything else was short on supply.

Not that it always looks like love within these walls. Everyone still cries. We all get frustrated with one another and the need to take turns. But as a mother of multiples, I’ve learned how to triage effectively. I’m not defeated when everyone needs something all at once.

I’ve learned that helping one daughter first allows the other two to understand the fine art of patience (well, someday.) I’ve seen how sharing, even in its early stages, will become one of the most important life skills my girls can master. I’ve even earned a spot in my own equation, advocating for myself and taking care of my own needs as well so I can better take care of everyone else.

I’ve found love to be an ever-renewable resource, wide enough for all of us, a perfect force for driving out fear.

 

april 022 (800x549)Written in honor of Multiple Birth Awareness Month for my 9 month old twins Gabrielle & Lucia, and my ever precocious toddler Ellis Olivia. For more great thoughts (and adorable pictures) on raising multiples, go check out  today’s link up at Twin Talk Blog. 

Sleep Training the Twins

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Dual Swinging

I didn’t know how good I had it. That’s usually the way it goes, right? We went through our days of infancy on a pretty routine schedule – eat, activity, sleep. Except by sleep, I mean that I put the babies in their swings and let them fall asleep there.

Every. Single. Time.

In my own defense, what else can one person do with two crying babies? I only have two arms. The swings seemed like the perfect way to keep them sleeping and secure. But when I went anywhere that didn’t have my magic swings, the girls had a difficult time taking any sort of nap. I chalked it up to different environment, but what I didn’t realize was this.

The swings had created a monster. (Two adorably sweet monsters, to be exact.)

I have a theory here – and it’s just a theory mind you – that the girls didn’t learn how to calm themselves down at an early age because whenever they fussed, I put them in the swings to calm them down. The constant motion lulled them to sleep, yes, but it took away the need for them to do one very important thing. Self soothe.

This was a problem, as were a couple of other things. So we took a giant leap right after Christmas.

1. We moved the girls into separate cribs

Hey sister-friend, what do you think of the whole arm-out system?

Hey sister-friend, what do you think of the whole arm-out system?

2. We stopped using the swings to lull them to sleep for naps and bedtime

3. We quit swaddling their arms

4. We moved Ellis into a big girl bed (so that now she can climb in and out with ease, open her door, and demand such things in the middle of the night as “a wittle drink”, help finding the tag on her blanket, and my personal favorite, to go poop.

In short, we started sleep training. Here’s why we decided to give it a go.

  • The girls were no longer sleeping through the night. Since four months, they had been getting up once or twice per night to eat. And because Jason had to go to work and Ellis was sleeping next door, I would rush in, feed them as quick as I could, and stumble back to bed. NOT sustainable.
  • When one twin woke up, it was almost inevitable that the other would wake up as well since her sister was literally screaming an inch away from her ear.
  • They were totally unhappy with their arms swaddled. Half the time we’d find them in the morning with one escaped arm waving like a defiant little flag. It was only a matter of time before someone got punched in the eye.
  • The swings… oh the glorious Fisher Price Cradle ‘n Swings. We used the heck of these contraptions until just a couple of weeks ago. In fact, we even had to replace one of them after only two months because we burned out the motor. But the problem that the girls were fast outgrowing my surrogate arms, and something else was gnawing at me. It seemed like they couldn’t go to sleep without the aid of the swing.

All of these things added up to one huge problem. The girls had not learned how to self soothe. Using swaddles meant that they couldn’t reposition themselves in the night if they were uncomfortable. Using swings to fall asleep meant that unless we had the swings with us 24/7, (or Fisher Price decided to come out with the giant toddler version) the girls didn’t know how to get to sleep on their own. And sleeping in the same crib meant that the twins could always rely on one another’s presence as a comfort and sleep aid.

So began one of the longest periods of sleep deprivation I’ve ever experienced.

The first night we tried just putting them in separate cribs. Up five times. Strike One. The second night we tried putting them in separate cribs again. Up six times. Strike Two.

The third night something had to change. It seemed like they were kicking a lot, so I unzipped their swaddles and left their feet out. This is not how swaddles are meant to be used. Miraculously, no one suffocated. The twins were up four times, and Ellis up three. Strike Three.

The fourth night I was out of my mind exhausted. I tried putting them to sleep in the same crib again, in case they weren’t ready for separation. They screamed bloody murder for 20 minutes with a soothing period between until I separated them again. I don’t know how often they woke up that night. I lost count.

Rice cereal rocks. And I'm not even a messy eater....yet.

Gabby thinks rice cereal rocks.

So on and so forth. We tried formula before bed. We tried rice cereal. We tried laying them down earlier. Later. We tried swinging and singing, less pajamas and more pajamas, white noise and pacifiers, stuffed animals and warm bean sacks. It all started to feel a little like voodoo. You know. As in, maybe if I stand facing west, sing three verses of Children of the Heavenly Father, two in English and one in Swedish, bounce 37 times and put you down when your eyes are half-open, you’ll sleep.

I felt like I was going crazy.

Let’s be real. I am going crazy. We’re not out of the woods yet. But we are settling into a few things that seem to work after trial and error. Here they are, in no particular order.

  1. I nurse them and bottle feed them 4 ounces of formula before they lay down between 7 and 8. This ensures they have really full tummies.
  2. I have a fan going in their room for white noise, so if one wakes up, there’s a little background to help keep the other one sleeping.
  3. I no longer swaddle the girls’ arms, and when they grow another inch or two, I’ll stop swaddling all together. They just seem more comfortable this way, and can achieve the touch down position if they want – which, by the way, is an indication of complete and deeply comfortable sleep.
  4. I give them a “dream feeding” around 10 or 11pm – not waking them up at all, but simply nursing them for about 5-10 minutes and then putting them directly back to sleep. My doctor said this was a good transition method, so why not.
  5. I’ve tried to create a little bedtime routine, which includes diaper changes, calm swaddling time, and holding them while I sway and hum a few verses of whatever song comes in my head (usually it’s Peter Pan’s “Stay Awake” lullaby. Reverse psychology.) I give them nooks to suck on and loveys to clutch, and after a few minutes, I put them down when they are mostly asleep but still a tiny bit awake. Apparently this will help them learn to fall asleep on their own, and it actually does work.
  6. Unless the situation is dire (RE: Bombs away double crying madness), I do not nurse them in the middle of the night anymore. I also let them cry it out for ten minutes before I go in and soothe them. Yes, sometimes one twin wakes the other up, and then it’s double duty soothing. But since we started to cry it out, they went from 60 minutes of off-on crying to only 20 minutes at a time now (and always a soothe session after 10 minutes.)

The sad part is that all of this progress combined only yields 6 hours of sleep for me at the most (and that has only happened one time). But after the past couple weeks, 6 hours seems like a gold mine. So it’s my new goal.

In the meantime, Ellis has all but decided to stop napping, the average temperature high has been -10, and I finally mailed my Christmas cards yesterday.

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Plum and Posey design

I’m not complaining. Just weathering the storm. My mom got me a beautiful wax seal cast in a silver medallion for Christmas – it’s a picture of a thistle flower and the inscription reads Dulcius ex asperis (Sweeter after difficulties) – it’s a perfect reminder that difficulty can produce good things if approached the right way.

I’m measuring my approach. I’m exhausted, but I’m praying to be given the strength to do what I can for my girls on the day I’ve been given. Most days, amazingly enough, it comes.

Meanwhile, sleep training continues. Here’s to hoping for a better report soon.

Why I don’t sleep anymore*

exhausted-cyclist1. Not waking up every hour and a half to two hours to comfort my screaming babies might make me miss them too much. I prefer helicopter parenting, especially at night.

2. The dark shadows around my eyes are kind of like a Vogue smoky eye, which makes me look in the mirror and think, “Wow. I did my makeup today! That’s an accomplishment.”

3. Puzzling why the babies and Ellis are not sleeping is a little like problem solving – so at least I’m not totally losing all my workplace skills.

4. I’ve been needing to get to know the force mechanics of the upstairs door knobs (old house) better ever since the time I put on lotion after holding one of the babies and effectively locked myself in their bedroom. At 2 in the morning.

5. Waking up to my toddler shuffling in the room and proclaiming she’s happy and would like to wake up now just fills me with energy.

6. It’s been cold here in Minnesota – cold enough that after I’m up with a baby, I now automatically go downstairs and throw another log on the fire. This effectively ensures I wake up enough not to burn my hands or my forearms off and can go back to bed wide awake, counting down the minutes until the next cry.

7. I haven’t been sick enough this year. Not sleeping is a great way to get sick. So it’s a win-win, really.

8. I’d be missing out on seeing all the phases and cycles of the moon, hereby planting the seed for my next endeavor: astronomer. After all, I need something else to do.

9. I really like hearing my toddler take on the roll of drill sergeant when she says, “Don’t lay down, mama. Get up. Play wiff me.”

10. Trying to calm the babies before they wake one another or the rest of the household up skyrockets my blood pressure in the middle of the night. I pretend it’s a cardio rush and go back to bed feeling like I squeezed in a workout.

*More on the actual mechanics of sleep training to come.